Tomek Mackiewicz is the third climber in the season who has been presumed "dead and missing" on Nanga Parbat in attempts to reach the top of the Killer Mountain. Nanga is the ninth highest and one of the deadliest mountains in the world after Ananpurna and K2 and it has lived up to its notorious reputation this year.
Tomek’s climbing partner Elizabeth Revol has been safely evacuated from an altitude of 6200m over the Kinshofer route in a daring rescue operation jointly conducted by Pakistan Army Aviation and Polish climbers Adam Bielecki and Denis Urubko.
Early this year, Spainiard Alberto Zerain and Argentinian climber Mariano Galvan were declared dead and missing after the rescue operations were suspended on June 28th, 2017.
Considered two of the most accomplished technical climbers in the world, Zerain and Galvan were attempting the Mazeno ridge to the top of the 8,125m peak.
Alberto’s last contact to the Base complained of bad weather and wet conditions.
“It’s snowing continuously, its snowy snow, because it’s not really cold, so it gets wet. It’s a very uncomfortable wait”.
The duo was making gradual progress till 23rd when they crossed 6000m mark. On 24th, the tracker gave a location of 6270m but an hour later it relayed an altitude of 6110m and stopped working presumably on Auto-off mode. It was not turned on after that moment.
Search and Rescue operation was launched traversing the last location marked by the tracker. Romanian climber Alex Gavan who was working on the Kinshofer Route on Diamir side, volunteered to carry out the rescue mission.
Reportedly, Galvan and Zerain were swept away in an avalanche near the top of the Mazeno Ridge. Their bodies were not recovered.
Before the first successful attempt of Nanga in 1953 by Austrian Herman Buhl, Nanga had already claimed 33 lives earning her the title “Killer Mountain”.
A Miracle is unfolding-strong hope for Eli and Tomek as the Rescue team makes rapid progress: News Update
Dropped at 5000m at 4.50pm PST at Camp-1 on the Kinshofer, Adam Bielecki and Denis Urubko have moved with lightning speed to get on top of Kinshofer wall to reach 5900m. This feat has been accomplished with no fixed ropes possibly making use of the hard blue ice axing their way up.
They have surpassed a near vertical technical wall of 400m in terribly cold and possibly windy conditions to dramatically increase the chances of Eli’s rescue. This is also the first time that Kinshofer wall has been climbed in alpine style in winters. Denis and Adam made perfect use of the acclimatization they have built on K2 reaching up to 5900m during the last few days.
In a few hours or possibly by the time this update is published, Eli will be roped down to the bottom of the wall where Jarek and Piotr will take her to the safety of the Base Camp while Adam and Denis will swiftly move up another 1400m to rescue Tomek. They have only few hours before weather deteriorates to zero visibility and wind speeds up to 100kph. Eli has been relaying messages through her SAT phone giving exact coordinates of her location contrary to Tomek who is bracing extreme cold and wind for the last 36 hours hungry, sleepless, blinded and sick.
The search and Rescue operation is unprecedented given the fact that the rescue team has overlooked all weather predictions and has moved to an altitude of 6000m on the Killer Mountain in winters and in a pitch black night.
Miraculously, the weather has been favorable with very less wind at lower altitudes although there are reports of intermittent snowfall.
For the moment, Eli’s rescue is more or less imminent and for the first time in three days, there is strong chance that Tomek will also be rescued from approx. 7200m where he has been patiently waiting. Pakistan Army aviation also undertook considerable challenge to shuttle the rescue team from Concordia to Diamir in less than three hours, although they have now called off any more heli flights presently due to darkness and tomorrow possibly due to bad weather.
This is truly a miracle unfolding!
Pakistan Army Aviation helicopters have already reached Diamir and are now contemplating the first and final pitch to latch-up Elizabeth from Camp-3 on Kinshofer. According to reliable sources, this will be the final attempt to save Eli before the search will be called off in wake of rapidly deteriorating weather conditions at Diamir.
This also means that all ground rescue will be put on hold until the weather clears up, leaving little or no chance of Tomek’s rescue and survival.
Weather report predicts heavy snowfall and blazing winds for the next two days which will effectively render all rescue operations null and void.
Polish rescue team may wait three days at the Base Camp in hopes of clear weather so they can attempt ground rescue via the Kinshofer. Adam and Denis will lead the rescue charge climbing light and fast while the rest of the team will stay as the backup support.
Tomek has little chance of survival while Eli’s rescue depends solely on the helis attempt to airlift her from 6400m.
In a few hours, Pakistan Army Aviation helis will take off from Skardu to pick four Polish climbers from K2 Base Camp ferrying them to Diamir side of Nanga Parbat. Helis were not dispatched on Friday despite the approval from the concerned government sections citing nightfall and darkness.
Rescue team comprises of Adam Bielecki, Denis Urubko, Piotr Tomala and Jarek Botor all specialized Technical climbers who have decent experience of Diamir Face. They are all set and waiting for the helis to carry them to Nanga.
"Our rucksacks are almost packed” Adam relayed this message via Instagram. “Helicopters should be here tomorrow in the morning. At least 4 of us are flying towards Nanga Parbat. Denis and I are going up light as soon and as high as possible. The rest with heavy luggage will safeguard the rear. Keep your fingers crossed for us and the weather."
Eli goes for help Leaving Tomek behind
Meanwhile, there is substantial evidence to prove that Eli has left Tomek possibly at 7000m tucked up safely in a snow cave and has moved fast to lower her altitude to 6600m on the Kinshofer. Going further down on the Kinshofer wall without fixed ropes is close to impossible. Eli’s old trusted partner Daniele Nardi has shared further info claiming Eli has come down to Camp-3 on Kinshofer and she will now wait for the helis for a possible airlift attempt.
“Everything is in correct way finally”. Wrote Denis via sms. “Tomorrow morning rescue team will fly to Diamir. We will try to go by Kinshoffer route as soon as possible. Adam and me are in head-team, going light style. Will be necessary to climb, sure, because old ropes shall be into the ice. Our group can be 4-6 members finally……We'll try to do our best.”
Bad Weather ahead
News from the weather front is not encouraging. There is just a small weather window which will allow the rescue team to carry on the reconnaissance of the route through helis. By early afternoon, helis are likely to go off-service due to high winds and overcast. There are also predictions of Jet stream finally entering the region likely to increase wind speeds up to 100-150 Kph, rendering all rescue efforts null and void.
Sickness report and a possible Summit success
According to assorted information, Tomek is suffering from snow-blindness, frostbite and possibly hypothermia. Both Eli and Tomek have been sleepless and have been facing excruciatingly tough conditions on high altitude.
Tomek’s blindness also indicates a possible summit success where he was pounded and thrashed by a blizzard pouring in from the Rupal side at the top. Also as per the Base Camp crew, they were last spotted at approximately 8000m moving up the trapezoid. If this information is accurate, there is possibility that Tomek would have thrown –in everything to stand at the top. There is also possibility that Eli refrained from attempting the peak citing dangerous conditions which is probably why she is in better physical condition. There is however, no confirmation of the summit success.
Elizabeth Revol’s family received a desperate Satellite phone message calling for heli rescue and financial help as they did not have security deposit for the Helicopter.
As per the details received, Eli and Tomek got stuck at the base of the summit dome somewhere at 7400m. They descended further to 7200m and haven’t been able to further lower their altitude. There is also fear that Tomek is not well and both climbers are fast losing time.
Meanwhile, Polish and French embassies moved their office to coordinate and jump-start a heli rescue operation taking help from the Polish climbing team at K2 Base Camp.
According to the latest information, heli has already left for Concordia Base Camp to pick three mountaineers and the team doctor along with oxygen and climbing gear.
Adam Bielecki and Denis Urubko are well aware of the Diamir side of Nanga as both have sent several days in past winter expeditions, however it is still not confirmed as to which climbers will be coming over for rescue.
A heli rescue seems to be a far flung possibility as weather is fast deteriorating and there is a small window in the early hours of 27th when the helis can actually scour the higher altitudes of Nanga.
There is heavy overcast from afternoon onwards which is likely to pound the area with high winds and raging snow blizzards, leaving little chance of any kind of rescue.
Tomek and Eli are the only ones who can possibly save their own lives by lowering their altitude as much as possible.
Time is running out fast for Tomek Mackiewicz and Elizabeth Revol, the two climbers who launched the dreaded summit push last night on Nanga Parbat.
There has been no news since.
The Base Camp crew spotted both the climbers close to 8000m mark near the summit dome sometime late Thursday morning. The crew insists that both were moving towards the summit albeit rapidly changing weather.
There have been no sightings since as the visibility has dropped considerably.
Although this info has yet to be verified, but in all probability, if the duo has touched the 8000m mark, it is highly unlikely that they will return without a summit. This holds true for at least Tomek, who is attempting this for the seventh time and has crossed the 8000m threshold for the first time.
Finding a way to get down from the summit would be a far-flung idea for this stubborn Pole.
What is even more daunting and dangerous, is the fact that they are following Alpine style, with no fixed ropes to trace their way down. An overcast and wind speeds close to 30-40MPH, the chill factor must have soared to -50 Celsius rendering visibility close to zero. The deafening snowstorm must have wiped out whatever trail they had broken on their way up. One step in the wrong direction can be fatal.
Given the present conditions and bad weather predictions, there are slim chances of a full scale Search and Rescue SAR operation conducted by HAPs or through helis.
On a positive note, a summit success will catapult them as two of the greatest mountaineers in the history for taming the ‘Killer’ in Alpine Style in a ridiculously low budget.
Our hopes and prayers are with them!
Utilizing favorable weather window, Tomek and Eli have climbed back in camp-3 at 7300m and they are likely to push for the summit tonight. There are no weather updates from the high camp with only just one message relayed by Tomek from Camp-3.
“We are at 7300 a terrible fight if the summit is tomorrow”
A small westerly system is building up on the North-west of Diamir which is likely to enter the region in the late morning hours in Pakistan, leaving a very small weather window for the summit push. The duo must not only be super-fast on their feet but will also have to climb down as quickly as possible if they ever make it to the top.
They have been staying in high camps for the last five days and must be experiencing severe physical fatigue due to high altitude and extreme cold.
At 7300m, they must be quite a few yards short of the base of the summit dome which is roughly at 7600m. They still have to climb a gruesome 825m vertically to reach the summit piton which marks the official summit of Nanga Parbat at 8,125m.
Meanwhile, situation on Nanga continues to be critical as the duo refuses to climb down from high camp even in wake of bad weather predictions. Earlier, they retreated from Camp-3 somewhere close to 7000m and returned to Camp-2 due to high wind and physical fatigue. It appears as if the team wants to wait out the blizzard in camp-2 and utilize the post blizzard calm to pitch a summit push in the early hours of 25th. This strategy can only work if there are clear skies with low wind and perfect weather.
Else, this can be suicidal.
Withstanding a blizzard as strong as 80MPH at 5900m Camp-2 is close to impossible. Tomek updated his status reiterating their post-blizzard plan and possibly the last summit push of the expedition.
"We are in C3 Windy about 100 km/h tomorrow C4. Summit Push 25 January. Good weather that day Greetings to friends on FB Please keep fingers crossed THANK YOU ALL also for financial support"
A summit in present scenario is highly unlikely.
Denis Urubko seems to have taken the lead in pitching high camps and fixing ropes on K2 all by himself while the rest of the team has avoided real action on the Savage Mountain.
Denis updated his status indicating sickness issues in the Polish Camp.
“Unfortunately for the expedition, several members turned sick… and they still are, so I had to go alone. I had great fun working my way up. C1 established at 5900, but couldn’t get any rest. I carried fixed ropes and used the established ones. Wow, it’s pretty hard work to carry it alone. In some places I could dig old fixed ropes out of the ice, and in some others I climbed with my crampons. Both ended up in beautiful sunset lights and I kept climbing to the tent platform. Until now weather forecasts haven’t been very accurate. For example they promised 40/50km/h winds and I was really hoping for it. But when I slept in C1 I was almost blown away. I had to sleep with a self-insurance system attached to the fixed ropes. Only when I started again at 9am I understood that carrying ropes and bivy gear is a weird venture. That’s why I kept digging out, cutting and verifying old fixed ropes. At 1pm I reached C2, at approximately 6300. Took me 30min to set the tent. The terrace was decent, room for 1 person more or less. Well, one can survive on it. At night a small outrage blew, but I slept very well. As the dawn broke, I rushed down and arrived at BC at 10.30.
Current situation: Adam and Marek are sleeping at C2. Artur and Pakistanis carriers went down to BC. Marcin and Macjej are sleeping at C1 and want to go to C2 tomorrow. Rafal and Petr will also try to reach C2 from BC tomorrow."
(Subject to translation errors)
What seems to the “sickness issue” in the Polish Camp is still not certain. Weather forecast is largely vague and unreliable, as the wind speed mounts without any forewarning. The team is likely to be at work during the two days of bad weather prediction on 23rd and 24th, making invaluable deposits on high camps.
Denis was also part of the 2016-17 Winter Expedition to K2 planned from the Chinese side. They were refused a climbing permit by the Chinese Government and had to return. Denis claims to have physical fitness of reaching up to 9000m ASL without having to use supplementary Oxygen.
Lack of resources is one of the crucial constraints that the duo might be facing during their dangerous summit push for the Nanga winter summit. They have been atop the Messner-2000 route and have reportedly pushed Camp-3 a little further up to facilitate a quick charge to the summit whenever possible.
There are no confirmed reports of their location or status as both are not on the GPS of any sort, making it impossible to ascertain their status.
This was the post on Tomek’s Facebook page on January 21st , 2200 PST possibly from the page administrators;
“Dear Tomek's friends. I am unable to communicate with him at the moment. I do not know their current position and altitude. They operate up on the mountain. According to the recent information that I have they plan the summit push around Wednesday, which corresponds with the forecasts. The wind will significantly decrease these days. We'll get some information probably at the end of the week. Please be patient. Full of trust and hope waiting. They are fine. 💚 Fingers crossed.”
In the early hours of 19th, the duo launched of what was affirmed as the ‘first and final” summit push that they will ever launch in this expedition. They later had to retreat from higher altitude due to fatigue and high winds. There are no GPS location or trackers and most of the chroniclers who are monitoring their forward march have been relying on weather reports to tally their possible summit attempt.
If these conflicting reports are to be relied on, both climbers are currently risking everything for this expedition. Camped somewhere close 7300m just below the summit dome can be fatal in the next two days as the wind speed is likely to gain strength in wake of the deteriorating weather.
Both climbers have no arrangements for backup support in terms of SAR operations and possibly do not have a security deposit for heli rescue. The closest Professional rescuers available are currently stationed in Concordia, fixing ropes on K2. Shuttling back to Skardu and rushing all the way to Diamir can easily take more than a week.
These are bad times to be at the top. We hope and pray for their safe even if not a successful return!